The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River by Susan M. Hill has been an incredibly informative and engaging read about the past, present, and future of the Grand River Haudenosaunee (Six Nations), as told from the perspective of a Mohawk academic, which is still relatively novel. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy includes the following six nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga and Tuscarora (who submit issues to the league through the Cayugas).
Hill frames this book as centring around the Haudenosaunee creation story and three other epics (stories) that introduce the reader to Haudenosaunee values and philosophies that are closely intertwined with their land governance. Even the history of the creation story is so complex, as there are issues of bias and inaccuracies in the translations.
Hill’s work primarily focuses on weaving an incredible socio-political history of the Haudenosaunee people prior to, and after, European settler colonialism. In particular, she outlines the history of treaty/wampum relationships with European settlers and how this history currently impacts Crown relations.
One of the most interesting chapters for me personally was chapter two, Kontinonhsyonni (translates to The Women Who Make the House). In this chapter Hill outlines the significant cultural and political role of women throughout Haudenosaunee history. I learned so much about their matrilineal lineage and cultural understanding of women’s roles and importance to society, which I was never taught in school. This understanding differs vastly from the European understanding of gender roles, which still greatly influences perspectives on gender roles in Canada today. For example, in Haudenosaunee history women’s critical roles of taking care of food and the land as Faithkeepers (ceremonial leaders) and Clan Mothers (prominent leadership roles in governance) are either undermined or excluded completely from Canadian history lessons students receive.
This book is a great reminder that we can all benefit from continuous lifelong learning and Susan Hill presents an awesome resource to help us all understand the land so close to us. Considering the future and continued calls for reconciliation, The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River is a great first step to learn about the history under your feet to better understand present relations as we move forward.
Although I don’t read non-fiction too often, this book was good enough to snap me out of my escapist sci-fi/fantasy reading tendencies, and I highly recommend it. This book is a bit challenging at times with its academic rigor and density, but it is undoubtedly worth the read and perfect if you’re looking to challenge yourself to learn something new, now that it’s back to school time!
– Jackie M.